Best Reuben Sandwich 2008 | City Diner | Food & Drink | South Florida

If you want a true Reuben — the eponymous sandwich invented by either Arnold Reuben or Reuben Kulakofsky, depending on which origin story you credit — first you need to find yourself a diner. City Diner, opened this year by irrepressible Palm Beach restaurateur Jo Larkie, offers a devil's choice: the traditional grilled corned beef on rye (in this case two thick slabs of rye-pumpernickel swirl) layered with melted Swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing; or a "California Reuben" composed of sliced roast turkey breast, melted Swiss, and homemade cole slaw. Either sandwich will make you wish you had an extra stomach in order to follow good with better, but if one were forced to choose from the receiving end of, say, a Walther P99, one might quaveringly allow that the corned beef ($8.50) just has the edge. Its fat and juice content, evidenced by what dribbles down the chin and puddles on the plate, its color and texture (a satisfyingly visceral and silky magenta), generous volume, ratio of cheese to meat and meat to cabbage, the pleasing char on the lip of that butter-saturated toast, and its long finish, which lingers on the palate like a good cabernet, taken together from the vantage point of a rotating chrome stool, add up to one permanent bad habit.

Saporissimo has been around for several years now, but somehow, even with an ever-lengthening list of passionate devotees, it hasn't lost its sense of being secret. No matter how many times you dine with the Monegattis, a husband and wife from Tuscany (she cooks, he charms your pants off), you always feel like you've discovered something. Maybe it's the well-worn look of the place, with its single, small room hung with an assortment of homey art, press clippings, and lace curtains, so unlike the chrome, glass, and relentlessly spotlit aesthetic of the chic eateries surrounding it. Maybe it's the stubbornly individual menu with wild boar, truffles, rabbit, and elk chops, or the preparations incorporating bitter chocolate or mascarpone, squid ink, or foie gras. Or the way Signore Monegatti presents glistening trays of fish and shellfish, and stuffed ravioli so fresh it still bears the imprint of his wife's fingers. It could be the heavenly burrata, still wrapped in damp leaves, or the cart of complimentary after-dinner drinks the staff wheels out with a flourish. The fact is, you can't dine here without feeling you've experienced something rare and magical, and you're the only two people in the world who know it.

Just how good is Zona Fresca's daily-made habanero salsa? Good enough that, despite the possibility of bodily harm — evidenced by the plumes of scorching heat trailing from your mouth down to the pit of your belly — you'll want to consume way more of it than you or any other human rightly should. The salsa — constructed of grill-charred tomatoes, onions, and peppers, complemented by a generous portion of cilantro and those frighteningly piquant habaneros — tastes of summer, a mélange of sweet, savory, and spicy with just the right balance of acidity. It has an uncanny knack for making you return to the always-free salsa bar for cup after cup of the stuff, to slather on your monster burritos or scoop up with salty tortilla chips. It also slowly burns as you eat it, building a five-alarm fire in your insides that continues to smolder throughout the day. Yes, you could wimp out and eat Zona's fabulous mild salsa instead, which tastes just as vibrant but foregoes the heat. But it's precisely that head-clearing warmth that launches you into a state of salsa-induced euphoria — a trip which might induce some pain, but from which you will most assuredly gain.

A decent plate of seafood in South Florida is getting to be as rare as an overfished bluefin: seems all our local undersea wealth gets shipped north. Eastern urban elites may rave over some chef-of-the-moment's prep of "shrimp six ways," but we Floridians know there's nothing our luscious homegrown Gulf shellfish needs beyond a squirt of lemon and nine or ten tablespoons of butter. Same goes for our snapper and grouper: No need to dress up these starlets in anything but their own glistening skins, pan-fried crisp. Ke'e Grill understands that any sauce or preparation is only as good as the animal you start with, and what they start with is good indeed — from Floridian sea life like the Palm Beach snapper in a light, fragrant preparation of tomatoes and artichokes, to imported filet of Dover sole with a spoonful of citrus beurre blanc, and south African lobster tails naked except for a cup of drawn butter. Owners Jim and Debbie Taube have been cooking and serving seafood long enough to have long since forsworn any froufrou in their menu — the glitz is reserved for the service and décor in this beautiful room overlooking a tropical garden and the haute couture of their clientele.

When you go to an expensive restaurant, you expect the wait staff to be friendly — after all, you're paying for it. And yet they rarely are. So why is it that at JP's Bagel Place, a joint where you can still scarf down a hearty plate of food for next to nothing, the staff is so unbelievably attentive? We have no earthly idea, but they are and we love it. This mini-diner is always abuzz with regulars, nearly all of whom the 20-something waitresses know by name. There are rarely open seats, no matter when you arrive, but after you do find a little nook to call your own, the real fun starts. Just watching the short order flurry behind the counter will floor you: the girls swarm like basketball players, effortlessly dodging one another with spins and skips. Newbies to JP's will hold temporary titles like "honey" or "baby" — which can be a bit unnerving to hear out of the mouths of waitresses who look fresh out of high school. Still, it's refreshing in South Florida to find an inexpensive hideaway with great food and spectacularly efficient, friendly service.

Come the revolution, our first official act will be to decree a moratorium on ridiculously expensive side dishes. Enough with the ten-dollar truffled cheese fries, the potato skins scattered with a king's ransom in caviar, the double-digit flash-fried escarole, the chanterelles hand-dug from some bois in Bordeaux and flown over to the States. One longs for the day when a side dish was a bit of mashed to go with your chop — it came free with a meal, most often right on the plate with your meat and veg, and if you were lucky it was chock-full of fat and salt. Evidently somebody at Cool'a Fish Bar was suffering a like nostalgia when they came up with the idea of the complimentary cheese potato gratin as a side order with any entrée (the excellent entrées average around $20; other side choices are coconut rice or French fries). A sort of cross between mac 'n' cheese and potatoes Anna, this hot gratin, served in its own tiny casserole, combines shredded potatoes, Colby and Monterey Jack cheese, and a dash of pepper; it makes a lovely, golden crust over its creamy innards. You'll want to ask your waitress for extraction tools — spoons, toothpicks, butter knives, tweezers — to scrape up every crunchy, buttery bit of it.

Betty's isn't your typical soul food joint. The quaint west Hollywood restaurant serves breakfast and lunch to folks looking for a taste of home — for breakfast, mounds of eggs done any way, with grits, pancakes, salmon croquettes, and fish platters; for lunch, fried shrimp, barbeque chicken wings, braised oxtail, and smothered pork chops. But their signature dish doesn't come directly from the backwoods South; instead, it takes a meandering turn through Jamaica. It's Betty's ultra-spicy jerk chicken — a destination-worthy plate of poultry if ever there was one. The southern soul comes from barbecuing on a barrel smoker out back. Then the island creeps in as the bird is chopped into knuckle-sized, bone-in chunks and slathered with Betty's super-secret jerk sauce, a furious paste of garlic, habenero, and loads of coarse black pepper. The succulent chicken clings to the bones with an infant's grip, its once-tactile collagen load now serving double duty, enabling the piquant jerk sauce to take hold of your palate for hours. Spice this fervent can be dangerous. Fortunately, Betty's stellar rice and peas, collard greens, and braised cabbage (with big ol' chunks of ham hock) lower your internal temperature to a slow boil.

Our favorite steak frites have everything the classic dish should have — except the steak. This darling, inexpensive bistro and bakery does serve a perfectly presentable, even delicious, plate of beef with fries. But for a truly gourmand frites experience, go for the mussels. The first time we ordered the mussels with frites at Rendez-Vous, our waitress nearly keeled over with pleasure she was so happy for us, and when she finally toted over the steaming bowl on what looked like a sort of rustic cutting board, roughly the size of our entire table, we knew that even with her encouragement we weren't going to be able to finish those dozens of shellfish bathing in their own winey broth, much less the mile-high fortress of gleaming shoestring fries. Luckily, she had a plan, and when we finally dabbed our greasy chins and pushed away from the table, she detailed for us at length exactly what we should do when we wanted to reheat and finish them at home the next day. Then she shooed us out the door with a complimentary paper bag full of pastries and a cheerful bonne nuit.

The group of foxy young dudes who opened Cut 432 in Delray Beach have taken the fusty old concept of a steak house and tossed out everything but the rib eye. Instead of cavernous rooms filled with sanguinary red plush, they've outfitted their long, sleek, Pullman car of a restaurant in silver and ice; it's like dining inside a very dry martini. The fat cats go elsewhere; here the clientele is dazzling and vivid to match the crystal chandeliers overhead. Cool, cool, cool, Cut 432 whispers; a single room so narrow waiters have to squeeze between bar and tables with trays of sizzling chops balanced on one upstretched arm. The place has been packed every night since it opened a couple of months ago; a coterie of regulars has already settled in to sample boutique wines and fork up thick, charred New York strips and cowboy steaks. Side orders like "blue cheese tater tots" flecked with green onion and scented with truffle oil are as delish as cold blue crab starters, authentic Caesar salads sporting sheets of Reggiano, and oversized oysters Rockefeller.

Tabatha Mudra

Don't tell Jared, but Fernanda's is the home of true sandwich artistry. Sure, it's a bit more expensive than Subway, and preparation takes an extra minute or two. But that's because the meat and cheese isn't sliced until you order it, which is the first mark of a marquee sub shop. And there's about a half-pound of it, piled high on bread still hot from the oven. Choose from among 18 special sandwiches, each with surprising ingredient combinations. While you're waiting for your order, cruise the market aisles for a rare wine or an exotic spice.

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